Originally created 04/23/04

China reports new cases of SARS for the first time in months



BEIJING -- China reported two suspected cases of SARS in Beijing and in the eastern province of Anhui on Thursday, the first cases in those areas since the country's initial outbreak of the highly contagious disease subsided last summer.

The patient in Beijing, a 20-year-old nurse, was quarantined in a hospital and examined by experts from the Ministry of Health, the government's Xinhua News Agency said.

She reported suffering a fever, cough and trembling on April 5 and was hospitalized two days later, but was only confirmed as a suspected SARS case on Thursday, it said.

Five other people who had contact with her have also reported fevers and were isolated in a hospital, Xinhua said. Doctors are keeping an eye on 171 other people who also had contact with her, to make sure they don't have symptoms, it said.

The second suspected SARS case was reported in Anhui, said the government in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's authorities said the health ministry notified them of two cases - one in Beijing and one in Anhui - and it was unclear why the Xinhua report only mentioned the Beijing case.

China received harsh international criticism for withholding information about SARS when it first broke out but later pledged to be more open.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, triggered a global health crisis last year that killed 774 people - 349 of them in mainland China. More than 8,000 were sickened around the world.

The disease first emerged in southern China in late 2002 but largely disappeared in July.

While China reported four SARS cases in its southern province of Guangdong in December and January, all four patients recovered.

When the SARS outbreak was at its peak, Beijing was among the hardest-hit cities in the world. Cinemas and restaurants were ordered to close to prevent crowding that might spread the virus.

The disease also depressed tourism throughout Asia.

The World Health Organization on Thursday said it was working closely with Chinese health authorities. "We have been informed of what the Ministry of Health terms one suspect case, and we're awaiting more information," said Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Beijing.

It wasn't clear why it took so long for the nurse to be classified as a suspected SARS case, though health experts have said there is no definitive test for the disease.

The nurse was admitted at the hospital where she works on April 7, then transferred to the intensive care unit of a larger hospital on April 14, Xinhua said in its report.

On Monday, two of her relatives reported having fevers. Beijing's health bureau reported the case to the Ministry of Health on Thursday, the news agency said.